Okla. Schools Make Tough Cuts Amid Oil Slump, Budget Cuts

Courtesy: CBS

INOLA, Okla. (CBS) — Inola High School is like any other in America, bustling with students running from class to class.

Except on Mondays.

The school district, outside of Tulsa, has lost $400,000 in state funding over the past year.

“Not in my worst dream did I ever figure I would be taking my district to a four-day school week,” said Dr. Kent Holbrook, the superintendent.

The choice was cut teachers or switch to four days with longer hours.

“When I started weighing out, what’s going to do more damage to these students? Is it going to be put 30, 35 first-graders in a class, or change the hours in a week? The decision was actually pretty easy,” Holbrook said.

Lawmakers blame a 70 percent drop in oil and gas prices since 2014. This year the state faced a $1.3 billion deficit and cut $34 million in education funding.

But critics say that’s in part due to years of giving tax breaks to oil companies; Rates as low as one percent during the boom, while the going rate in North Dakota was 11.5 percent.

Nearly one-third of Oklahoma’s school districts, in mostly poor, rural areas, have had to shorten the school week.

“Knowing we don’t have enough money to keep the lights on and the buses running … it’s just an outrage,” said Audra Cornett, who has two children in Inola schools and is also a teacher.

“Their whole future depends on the quality of education that they received at these young ages,” Cornett said. “I don’t see them being ready in the way we had been able to prepare them before.”

To help out other parents, she opened a learning center, where for $20, they can send their children on Mondays — until the time when that will be a school day again.